Mercury prize 2023: London group Ezra Collective secure first ever jazz win

The 2023 Mercury prize has been awarded to Ezra Collective, the London band whose propulsive blend of jazz, funk and Afrobeats has electrified audiences and cemented the capital’s jazz scene as one of the world’s most exciting.

“We met in a youth club,” said drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso on accepting the award for the year’s best British or Irish album for Where I’m Meant to Be, the band’s second release. “This moment we’re celebrating right here is testimony to good special people putting time and effort into young people to play music … let’s continue to support that,” he added, citing grassroots collectives in London such as Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco.

It’s the first time a jazz artist has won the prize since its inception in 1992, and the quintet beat out bookies-tipped artists such as the Irish drone-folk band Lankum and the rapper Loyle Carner.

At the ceremony at Hammersmith Apollo, Jamz Supernova, the DJ and spokesperson for the judging panel, said Where I’m Meant to Be was an “uplifting and timely record that represents the very best of where we are now in 2023”.

Grounded in the infectious polyrhythms of Afrobeat – Koleoso was mentored by Fela Kuti’s esteemed drummer Tony Allen – and capable of long-form improvisation as well as party-starting grooves and melodic themes, the group also comprises bassist TJ Koleoso, trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi, saxophonist James Mollison and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones.

Bringing guest vocals to their album are Emeli Sandé, Sampa the Great and two previous Mercury nominees: rapper Kojey Radical and R&B-soul singer Nao. In a five-star review on its release in November 2022, the Guardian’s Kate Hutchinson said Where I’m Meant To Be was “an exceptional album that centres joy and community, radiates positivity and youthful abandon, and could well be the one to cross over to the big league.”

Their win finally brings true recognition from the prize for a British jazz scene that has generated global attention and a raft of new stars, following recent yearly – some have said tokenistic – inclusions on the shortlist for the likes of Nubya Garcia (whose band Armon-Jones also appears in), Moses Boyd, Seed Ensemble, Sons of Kemet, Dinosaur and the Comet is Coming.

Ezra Collective celebrate their win.
Ezra Collective celebrate their win. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Ezra Collective win £25,000, and join an esteemed group of previous prize winners, including rappers Skepta and Dave, Britpoppers Pulp and Suede, and the only two-time winner, PJ Harvey.

Arctic Monkeys were nominated for a fifth time, the joint highest number of nominations alongside Radiohead – though unlike Radiohead, they have actually won it, for their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not in 2006.

Another previous winner, Young Fathers, were back in the shortlist, while J Hus, Jessie Ware and Carner all notched second nominations. The other nominees were Olivia Dean, Fred Again, Jockstrap, Raye and Shygirl.

The prize was voted on by judges from across the music industry: musicians Anna Calvi, Jamie Cullum and Hannah Peel; broadcasters Sian Eleri, Mistajam, Jamz Supernova and Danielle Perry; media figures Phil Alexander, Will Hodgkinson and Tshepo Mokoena; plus BBC 6 Music and Radio 2 head of music Jeff Smith, and Lea Stonhill, content manager at YouTube.

All the nominated artists minus Arctic Monkeys, J Hus and Fred Again performed live at the ceremony, with Ezra Collective providing a rousing finale.

source: theguardian.com